Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Packers Select Mike Daniels In The 4th Round

Overall, the 2012 NFL draft was just what I expected from the Green Bay Packers and GM Ted Thompson. They had a lot of draft picks (eight), selected players at various positions, and they gave the roster a good infusion of depth. Though they realized there's little room for rookies on the offensive side of the ball, so they did more to fill out every position on defense.

The only concern is that they didn't address the center or guard positions. T.J. Lang is scheduled to become a free agent after next season, and Jeff Saturday will probably not play past his current two-year contract. However, those are not the hardest positions to fill in the NFL, and improving for 2012 certainly takes priority over possible problems in 2013.

While they usually don't trade up, with 12 draft picks in hand due to previous trades and compensatory selections, trading away four of those picks to move up twice in the second round was a good strategy. Now the 2012 draft class is a more manageable group of eight players. Though the two seventh round selections might have to settle for spots on the practice squad, the six players on defense should all make the 53-man roster.

Round 4, pick 132. Iowa DL Mike Daniels. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers liked him because "he plays with quickness" and you can see that in the video below. He bursts in on those plays. He had a very productive 2011 senior season (9.5 sacks) earning all-Big Ten honors, and he's from a school that has a good reputation for turning out quality defensive lineman.

He's a little short (6-0) which will hurt him as he tries to stick his hand up to knock down a pass or see over the line during a play. He battled a leg injury for most of 2011, also he's recovering from a torn labrum and ankle sprains, so medical concerns are an issue. He could be a good high energy guy who can pick up 5 sacks because he never gives up on a play. However, there's a chance, especially with a history of injuries, that he could become the next Mike Neal or Justin Harrell.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Rounds 2 and 3: Packers Add Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward

After three picks for the Green Bay Packers, the remaining positions they should address in the draft are center and safety. Neither player would have to be ready to start in 2011, though it would help if a rookie could unseat Charlie Peprah, but they should look for a long-term solution at both positions. They also need a running back to replace Ryan Grant, and a backup quarterback to replace Matt Flynn. Those positions could be addressed after the draft in free agency or they could trade for Colt McCoy.

While the Packers haven't selected the exact three players I suggested in my mock draft, they have added depth to the top three positions I felt they had to improve. Though they added a cornerback instead of a safety, his arrival could mean the shift of another player to safety.

Round 2, pick 51, Michigan State DL Jerel Worthy. Questions about his work ethic pushed him back into the second round, but he's got first round talent. After Mike Neal flopped in 2011, the Packers needed someone to replace Cullen Jenkins. He won't be a Jenkins clone, he'll be more of a bull rusher than a pass rusher, but his size and strength will be a welcome upgrade on the defensive line. Outside of B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, I'm not sure any defensive lineman from last season should expect to return. It's too bad it cost them a 4th round pick to move up 8 spots for Worthy, but getting the right player is more important than having extra depth. I favored Penn State DL Devon Still in a mock draft, however they're similar players and the Packers went with their choice of them. I was more concerned that they added a top ranked defensive lineman than a specific player.

Round 2, pick 62. Vanderbilt DB Casey Hayward. NFL Network's Mike Mayock raved about Hayward's ball skills, which is something the Packers looked for two years ago when they traded up for S Morgan Burnett. The Packers didn't want to wait until the 3rd round, so they traded that pick, along with their 5th rounder, to the Patriots. I'd been hoping they would draft a defensive back who could compete at safety, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers says Hayward "will mostly work at cornerback." Maybe it's sign that Charles Woodson will move to safety (or second year player Davon House), but it could mean that they have less faith in Sam Shields than they did a year ago. If they feel Shields needs the competition, then it's a position they need to improve sooner rather than later.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: The Green Bay Packers Select USC's Nick Perry In The First Round

Over the past few years, I've usually hoped that the Green Bay Packers would add a dynamic pass rusher to their defense. So when they drafted USC's Nick Perry at the end of the first round, it warmed my heart to see them filling one of my favorite draft needs. At 6-3 and 271 lbs., he's fast and strong for a player his size, and his pass rushing is NFL worthy.

He's something special as a pass rusher. It's all the other parts of his game that I worry about.

Mocking The Draft's Dan Kadar called him "a scary prospect (in a bad way)." He didn't play against the run in college, making him questionable as a starting 4-3 DE, and he showed "no coverage skills" which makes him questionable as an every down outside linebacker in the Packers's 3-4 defense.

Maybe his pass rushing skills alone are worth it. I'd rather they had drafted a pass rushing defensive lineman, but obviously they didn't think any of them had a first round grade, or were better than Nick Perry. I'm still excited about what he can bring to their team as a pass rusher, but only time whether he can become an every down player.

At least at first, defensive coordinator Dom Capers doesn't seem to envision Perry as an every down player.

Packers 2012 Mock Draft: 1st Through 4th Rounds

Earlier I wrote about six players the Green Bay Packers could select in the 5th through 7th rounds, and I explained how I'm conducting this mock draft to limit the pool of players I'm actually choosing from. I'm more interested that GM Ted Thompson at least addresses these particular positions in the draft.

4th round, pick 133. Iowa State CB Leonard Johnson. Ranked 136 by CBS Sports. There may be some concerns about a neck injury, and there are some concerns about his lack of speed. But he was a productive college player, and in the short-term, he'd be a fine replacement for departed free agent Pat Lee. Or he could compete to be the 4th string CB against Davon House.

4th round, pick 132. California DE Trevor Guyton. Ranked 132 by CBS Sports. He's not a pass rusher, but at 6-3 and 285 lbs. he could become a solid defensive end in a 3-4 system. He'd challenge C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn for a backup role, or a rotational spot, on the defensive line.

4th round, pick 123. Troy LB Jonathan Massaquoi. Ranked 126 by CBS Sports. He'd be a small school project, but he's talented and shown some skill as a pass rusher in college. With Erik Walden re-signed for one-year and $725,000, along with Frank Zombo and Brad Jones returning, Massaquoi wouldn't be needed to do it all next season. If he could provide a pass rush off the edge, he would be an immediate help.

3rd round, pick 90. Troy OL James Brown. Ranked 102 by CBS Sports. Back-to-back players from Troy? OK, it's unlikely, but in a weak draft class for centers, he strikes me as someone who may have enough athletic talent to play at either center or guard in a couple years. Otherwise known as the time at which Jeff Saturday retires. They do need to find someone who can either be the center of the future or provide depth at guard, and Brown might be able to do both.

2nd round, pick 59. Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming. Ranked 59 by CBS Sports. In a weak draft for safeties, I'm looking at cornerbacks who could play safety. At 5-11 and 206 lbs. he's about the same size as Nick Collins. He's described as a zone defender, which is basically the Packers defensive scheme in the middle of the field. I like reading that he has good closing speed and ball skills.

1st round, pick 28. Penn State DT Devon Still. Ranked 28 by CBS Sports. They have to address the defensive line in the 1st round. They need a talented big man to take the pressure off B.J. Raji, and provide some production. There are some questions whether he'll play with a mean streak, and whether he's a one-year wonder, but the talent is there. If not Still, then I hope they draft the best defensive lineman available.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Packers Will Release Nick Collins

The Journal-Sentinel reports that the Green Bay Packers will release Nick Collins. It's really a sad day for all involved. The Packers will save some salary cap room, but I think GM Ted Thompson would rather pay him and have a Pro Bowl caliber safety. And I understand why they decided to release him. What would happen if he took another awkward hit to the neck? Would he be paralyzed? I really don't want to find out.

It's also a sad day for Collins because he wants to return. It's too bad that it came down to this, and neither Collins or the Packers can know for sure whether he shouldn't play again, but it's the safe decision. And I'd do the same thing if the choice was mine.

In his far too short career with the Packers, Collins became one of the team's best players. He was named the starter during his rookie season in 2005, and he never let go of the job. His first three seasons were on a learning curve. He was good enough to start, but not much of a play maker. However, he broke out in 2008 and made the Pro Bowl in his last three full-seasons (2008 to 2010). He's a great athlete who did everything he could to make himself better, and it's terrible that his time with the Packers has to end this way. Unfortunately it's a violent game, and this is one of those reminders.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Packers Complete 2012 Mock Draft: 5th through 7th rounds

Who do you expect the Green Bay Packers will draft? With all twelve draft picks in seven rounds? If I get this one right, it's proof that I don't play the lottery enough. Earlier I wrote about the Top 10 draft needs, and those needs are the main focus. I'm certain not to select the correct players, but I hope they address these positions. And I hope they add players to nearly every position on the roster.

I also limited the pool of available players. I matched the Packers draft order with the CBS Sports draft prospect rankings, and selected a player as close as possible to that exact spot. For example, I tried to match the No. 28 overall pick with the player ranked as the 28th best player. But I kept in mind their Top 10 draft needs. So the positions that need the least help were drafted later, and the positions that need the most help are near the top of the draft. 

7th round, pick 243. Mississippi RB Brandon Bolden. Ranked 268 by CBS Sports. His speed score doesn't suggest that he'll be a starting NFL running back, but we're talking about drafting a 3rd stringer in the 7th round. He's got NFL size (5-11, 222 lbs.) and he was a good receiver in college. He looks like a good candidate to battle Brandon Saine for a spot on the 53-man roster.

7th round, pick 241. Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish. Ranked 262 by CBS Sports. He reminds me a little of Graham Harrell and Matt Flynn. He's almost the exact same size as Harrell at 6-2 and 219 lbs. He's athletic enough, something that you apparently can't say about Case Keenum, and maybe Mike McCarthy's quarterback school will do wonders for his arm strength and accuracy. 

7th round, pick 234. Regina DT Akiem Hicks. Ranked 235 by CBS Sports. O Canada! Though he might have wound up at LSU if he hadn't been involved in a recruiting controversy. He's a major project, but you can't coach 6-5 and 318 lbs. He'd be a good candidate for the practice squad, and the defensive line could use all the help it can get.

7th round, pick 224. Southern Miss OT Lamar Holmes. Ranked 229 by CBS Sports. You can't coach 6-5 and 323 lbs. but he might never have NFL ability. Maybe the best we could hope for is that he's the next Breno Giacomini. But the Packers have always had one of these guys on the practice squad, Chris Campbell was the guy in 2011, and maybe it should be Holmes in 2012. With the release of Chad Clifton, there's a need for some depth at tackle.

6th round, pick 197. Oregon SS Eddie Pleasant. Ranked 198 by CBS Sports. He might be an undersized linebacker playing safety, but he's finishing an accomplished college career, and he could compete against M.D. Jennings for a backup spot.

5th round, pick 163. Michigan WR Junior Hemingway. Ranked 163 by CBS Sports. At 6-1 and 225 lbs. he'd battle Tori Gurley for the honors as the biggest WR on the roster. It's more likely he'd be a candidate for the practice squad or only be considered if injuries become a problem. But with 12 picks, they should find a receiver to challenge Gurley or Diondre Borel.

Tomorrow, the first four rounds.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Packers Release Left Tackle Chad Clifton

Here's the official announcement from the Green Bay Packers that they've parted ways with long-time LT Chad Clifton after he failed his physical. Here's what I wrote about it at Acme Packing Company:
After spending most of the 1990s looking for a replacement to Ken Ruettgers, I thought I had read at one time that Wolf was surprised to see Chad Clifton still available in the 2nd round. With his selection, the left tackle position was solidified for the next ten plus seasons. He hasn’t always been the best lineman on the team at any given time, but he’s always been a good left tackle in a league that has a short supply of them. However, I was surprised he wasn’t released earlier. He’s been playing through nagging injuries for years and 2011 looked like the end of the road. But the Packers were more patient than I was. They appeared ready to give him a chance to return next season. And probably compete for the starting job too. I think it’s unlikely, but it’s possible he could return to the team, depending on what happens in the draft. They were willing to keep him, and no other team will sign him until he passes a physical. If he continues to rehab, and he’s able to pass a physical over the summer, then he could be back.

Blogger 2012 NFL Mock Draft

I took part in the mock draft over at Zone, along with a lot of other excellent team bloggers. The first round is now complete though I didn't draft for the Green Bay Packers until late last week. I selected Penn State DT Devon Still in the first round.
While linebacker is a need too, the defensive line needs the help even more. Devon Still would immediately become the second best defensive lineman on the roster if he were selected.
While Ryan Pickett is better at some things, Still would be the complete lineman who can play against the run and pass. And I'm not entirely sold on Still either. That's how bad the Packers defensive line has become.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Top Ten 2012 NFL Draft Needs For The Green Bay Packers

GM Ted Thompson recently said that the Green Bay Packers draft for long-term investment, and not immediate need. That's a luxury they could afford after winning a Super Bowl, and the selection of OL Derek Sherrod in the 1st round last year was one example. Sherrod helped little in 2011, but he's being counted on as a long-term player on the offensive line.

However this draft can't be treated the same as last year. Thompson isn't known to tip his hand, so while he's said one thing, he could be thinking something else. And I hope that's true because the Packers have a couple major needs.

One part of Thompson's draft strategy is that he doesn't focus heavily on one position. With a dozen draft picks in hand, it should be expected that he'll be adding new players up-and-down the roster. Without focusing on any particular player, and I'll count down the Top 10 most important draft needs. That doesn't necessarily mean he should draft in this particular order, the players won't be available in just the right order, but all of these positions should gain at least one additional prospect in the draft.

10. Offensive tackle. The last time Mike McCarthy spoke about Chad Clifton, it sounded like he was recovering pretty well from the injuries that limited him in 2011. But if he's unable (or too expensive) to return, and Derek Sherrod is slow to recover from his severely broken leg, this could be a position that lacks depth. A late round pick might be a necessity, and he would be a candidate for the practice squad if Clifton and Sherrod return.

9. Wide receiver. This isn't a position that needs depth, but the Packers offense is powered by its wide receivers, and they can never have enough prospects around.

8. Inside linebacker. If A.J. Hawk isn't worried about his starting job (and his roster spot; he won't be paid like a starter to sit on the bench), then he should be. D.J. Smith has a promising future, but the position could use more competition and an inside linebacker could help on special teams too.

7. Cornerback. It's more likely that Sam Shields will bounce back next season than they'll need a rookie to replace him. But with the departure of Pat Lee to Oakland, they have a spot open on the roster, and they should fill it with someone better than the average practice squad player.

6. Quarterback. With Matt Flynn in Seattle, they need another quarterback for the roster. Maybe Graham Harrell is good enough to move into the backup role, but they need a Plan B. A late round pick might be the best option because they could stash him on the practice squad if needed. But I wouldn't be upset if they used an earlier pick on the quarterback they really want.

5. Running back. The Packers have shown no interest in re-signing Ryan Grant. With Alex Green recovering from a season ending knee injury, and James Starks showing no sign that he can stay healthy for an entire 16 game season, they'll need another back.

4. Interior offensive line. Jeff Saturday's been signed, so this center not an immediate need after the free agent departure of Scott Wells. This is a long-term investment, as Ted Thompson would say. A lineman who could play either center or guard would be a valuable backup, and maybe a future starter.

3. Outside linebacker. Some people certainly would put this position higher, but some combination of Brad Jones and Frank Zombo might be just as productive as any rookie they'll draft. But the main point here is that the top two positions are even more important.

2. Safety. Maybe Nick Collins returns and then this need falls down towards the middle of the list. But no one knows that for sure. It's better to play it safe and find a talented prospect who could become the next Morgan Burnett. Without addressing this position, it could be either Charlie Peprah or M.D. Jennings starting. And that's not good enough.

1. Defensive tackle. Sometimes a young Cullen Jenkins goes undrafted and he can be discovered by a good scouting department. But usually the best interior pass rushers are selected early in the draft. And the Packers need a good interior pass rusher. While the Packers base defense is a 3-4, what they need is a 4-3 DT like Jenkins who can play as a 5-technique DE on rushing downs, and line up over the guard (like a 4-3 DT) when the Packers play their nickel defense. Improving the run defense would be a nice bonus, but this is about finding a pass rusher.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Will The Packers Draft A Defensive Back?

There were two different, but related, articles about the Green Bay Packers defensive backfield.

First, the Press-Gazette spoke with GM Ted Thompson about Nick Collins and he said he won't specifically target a safety in the draft. The Packers won't meet again with Collins until after the draft, and even then, they may not know when (or if) he'll ever play again. Thompson never talks much about his draft plans, but the team's immediate needs have to play some part in the decision process (despite his denial). They do have to manage the roster and make sure they have quality players at every position.

Second, the Packers are "looking at a lot of DBs." These guys look like potential undrafted free-agents, but they'll probably need a couple of those guys too. I wouldn't expect much from it, although that's how they acquired CB Tramon Williams.

Bottom line: they can't start Charlie Peprah next season at safety. After a solid 2010 season, he fell to earth last season with poor coverage and poor tackling. If Collins is out, then the list of candidates to even compete with Peprah is short. I'd rather they had a young veteran to challenge Peprah, but they need a more talented option than either M.D. Jennings or Davon House. They'll have to find that player in this draft. The safety class isn't great, and I'm no fan of moving Charles Woodson to safety, though there are a lot of talented prospects at corner. They should use a high draft choice to find a better option at safety.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Packers Won't Sign Desmond Bryant

NFL restricted "free agents" are free agents in name only. These players never leave their original team no matter how much speculation is out there regarding Steelers WR Mike Wallace. Which is unfortunate, because there's one restricted free agent remaining who could be a good fit for the Green Bay Packers. Raiders DT Desmond Bryant.

I wrote about him back in early March, and saw that he's a good run defender in addition to recording five sacks last season. He'll be a good value for the Raiders, who will probably pay him around $2 million next season. The only way the Packers could have him is if they offered a crazy contract that would be so bad that Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie wouldn't consider matching it. And GM Ted Thompson doesn't do crazy.

Should The Packers Really Target Shea McClellin?

While I was taking a couple weeks off from blogging, a few mock drafts started linking the Green Bay Packers to LB Shea McClellin. He's finished a strong career at Boise State, and at 6-3 and 260 lbs., he seems to be a strong candidate to play outside linebacker in the NFL.

The scouting report at CBS says McClellin's a "high effort and energy rusher" and "not an elite athlete." So is McClellin going to play at the same level in the NFL though he doesn't seem to have the same elite athletic ability? You don't draft a player in the first round just because he was great in college and has a high motor. He's got to be the complete package.

In the above video, it looks like Boise State is playing him like a Wide 9 DE. Similar to how the Eagles use DE Jason Babin. Now Babin had a great 2011 season with the Eagles, but the Packers don't use that type of defensive formation. Maybe they're thinking about changing it up, but that's just speculation. I didn't see any highlights of McClellin dropping into coverage and making a play.

McClellin's not going to last until the end of the second round, so if the Packers want him, they'll have to draft him at the end of the first round. He could be the next Jason Babin, but that wouldn't seem to fit with the Packers defensive scheme under Dom Capers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

When The Inability To Run Might Be A Good Thing

Pro Football Focus looks at how well teams ran inside last season, and it's not a big surprise that the Green Bay Packers aren't very good at running in the B-gap (between the guard and tackle). But is this a problem?

I'm sure Mike McCarthy wants his players to execute each play better than their opponent, so I'm sure he sees this as an area for improvement. Maybe OT Marshall Newhouse isn't much of a run blocker, or FB John Kuhn isn't great at getting through the line to take out a linebacker.

The best team last season at running through the B-gap was the Buffalo Bills. And Pro Football Focus noted that most of the Bills' success came when they ran from a shotgun formation. Which is something the Packers offense does on occasion, but it seems like it's used only as a change of pace because it almost never works for them.

Running up the middle seems like a play that's designed to fail. The Packers are pretty predicable about when they're going to run (usually on first down) and that's when they kill their opponent with the play action pass. And if they're sacrificing the run to set-up the big passing play, then that's a trade-off I'd be glad to see them take again next season. Here's an example of a likely inside run to the left that became a big play down field to the right:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Where The Recent Mock Drafts For The Green Bay Packers Stand

There are going to be a lot of mock drafts published in the final two weeks before the 2012 NFL draft, but I'm not expecting to see a big shift in what's expected from the Green Bay Packers. The consensus is that they need to find a pass rusher. And I can't argue with that analysis.

Mel Kiper's April 4th mock draft: USC DE/LB Nick Perry

Todd McShay's April 11th mock draft: Clemson DE/LB Andre Branch

Wes Bunting's April 4th mock draft: Perry

Rob Rang's April 12th mock draft: Perry

Dane Brugler's April 12th mock draft: Penn State DL Devon Still

And if Perry wasn't off the mock draft board by the time the Packers were on the clock, I bet McShay and Brugler would have Perry going to the Packers too. With Perry and Clay Matthews both having roots back to USC, I can see why that connection is made. But it really comes down to the fact that Perry is usually the best pass rusher available at the end of the 1st round.

There is some concern that Perry may want to remain on the defensive line, but he's almost the exact same size as Anthony Hargrove, who the Packers recently signed as a free agent. If Hargrove could have a role on the Packers defense, then it makes sense that Perry could fill a role too. Even if it's not as a traditional outside linebacker.

But I still have a sweet spot for Devon Still. He's been falling down draft boards because of a weak combine workout and a deep draft class at defensive tackle, but a turf toe injury may be holding him back. Otherwise, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is a perfect Cullen Jenkins replacement. At 6-5 and 303 lbs. he's a true 3-4 defensive lineman, and he can rush the passer. Maybe he's not a true 1st round talent and better suited as an early 2nd round pick, but on paper he looks like a better fit than Perry. I know where he'd play for the Packers, while I'm not sure what role Perry would fill.